From church records to birth, marriage and death registrations, census records to electoral rolls and passenger lists to immigration and naturalization records, many of our favourite sources for family information have captured a variety of spellings, handwritings, and abbreviations. As those historical collections have been digitized and transcribed, modern day technicians have struggled to correctly interpret and preserve an entry from long ago, and subsequently we as researchers have struggled to find them.
If there is one thing I have learnt in my years of researching my family, it is
that NO surname, however simple, will EVER be recorded with the same spelling
all the time. When researching, always consider how a name may have been
misspelled or incorrectly recorded. Remember that the clerk creating the record spelled the name the way he felt
like spelling it - how it sounded to him at the time. And frequently he
got it wrong. Sometimes he got it spectacularly wrong!
Abbreviations can also complicate research - William was often abbreviated as
Wm, Thomas as Thos or Tom, Patrick as Pat or Patk or Patr, Daniel as Dan or
Danl or Danny, Margaret as Maggie, Elizabeth as Beth or Eliza. When
searching for an ancestor, be mindful that an exact search for a given name may
unintentionally hide an ancestor from view if the original record or
transcription used an abbreviation.
In addition to alternate spellings and abbreviations, another source of name
variations comes from errors made during the transcription process. As
people transcribe family history records, they seek to preserve content exactly
as it appears in the historical original. Despite best efforts, errors do
occur and names can be unintentionally altered. Consider how old handwriting may be misinterpreted - both by you and by earlier transcribers or indexers.
Some databases are quite flexible in regards to spelling variations when
searching, but they will never cover every possible error and sometimes several
searches are necessary to locate an elusive record. Remember to be
creative and keep digging - you never know what you might find - or how it may